Tim Hughes finds that the 70s rock band still haven't calmed down

After 40 years’ active service, one might expect The Stranglers to have calmed down. To the relief of the capacity crowd crammed into the O2 Academy on Monday, the ’70s rock band have done nothing of the sort.

Far from growing old respectfully, they actually seem to get punchier, and certainly louder with every visit. In fact, their two-hour show was among the loudest gigs I have experienced since Mogwai destroyed the speakers at Oxford Brookes Student Union some years back, and, days later, my ears are still ringing.

But this show was not only remarkable for its volume; it marked four decades of one of the most important bands this land has ever produced. And, with the exception of the relatively youthful lead singer Baz Warne — who long ago replaced former frontman Hugh Cornwell — it is also one of its oldest; drummer Jet Black clocking in at 76. And it was on his drum kit that our eyes were trained when the band marched on stage.

Two years ago, on the same stage, Jet was taken ill with breathing difficulties and rushed to the JR. He also missed last year’s tour but, to fans’ delight, had joined his bandmates this time round.

So the sight of a sprightly stand-in picking up the sticks as they launched into their set was cause for collective disappointment. The band however, made no mention of Jet’s absence until their encore, when Baz told us that Jet sent his regards, was sorry he couldn’t make it but was “safe and well”.

That was the only disappointment, however, from a set which raced through the band’s history at breakneck speed; classic tunes segueing into recent tracks with minimum banter. This, after all, is a blokes’ band, and while there were a few ladies in the crowd, including a handful of brave souls at the pit barrier, the audience was overwhelmingly male, dressed in black, of a certain age, and burly — hence the crush (a capacity crowd of skinny indie-kids would have occupied half the space).

The highlights, and biggest cheers, came with the classics Heroes, Was It You, Peaches and Golden Brown — the latter turning into a moment of comedy with Baz mucking up the words but valiantly continuing to the mockery of bass player JJ Burnell, who borrowed a Flamenco-type fan from the audience to cool down his flustered bandmate and joined in with some deliberately dodgy backing vocals. The laughs continued with 1980’s beat-heavy Thrown Away, introduced by Baz as “disco time” – cue comedic strutting from JJ, proving that while they may be rock icons, they can still laugh at themselves.

Crowd-pleasers continued with Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, Duchess, 5 Minutes and Hanging Around along with new tunes like 2011’s Freedom is Insane and Lowlands.

They cranked things up even higher for the encore, with 2004’s Norfolk Coast, Something Better Change, through to Men in Black classic Tank.

While we were exhausted, JJ and the boys hardly seemed to have broken a sweat. They may be 40 years into their careers, but this was no signing off. Here’s to the 50th. Hopefully with Jet, too.